A number of top science officials in the federal government took a moment today to recognize the milestone of fifteen years of continuous human presence in outer space aboard the International Space Station, as well as the scientific progress that presence is enabling
“For 15 years, humanity’s reach has extended beyond Earth’s atmosphere,” said National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Charles Bolden in a public statement yesterday to commemorate a decade and a half of humans living continuously aboard the International Space Station (ISS). President Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, and the leadership of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology also chimed in with statements marking the milestone, emphasizing the value of the scientific contributions being made through the ISS.
Cutting edge research conducted on the ISS from 2000 to present
The first crew to arrive at the ISS, consisting of astronaut William Shepherd and cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, docked at the space station Nov. 2, 2000. Since then, NASA says researchers from 83 countries have conducted more than 1,760 scientific investigations through the orbiting laboratory. The results of the first research study conducted on the ISS, on protein crystal growth, has contributed to the treatment of diseases and disorders on Earth, including muscular dystrophy.
According to NASA, the ISS has hosted the visits of more than 220 people from 17 of the world’s nations since 2000. Today, six members of Expedition 45 to the station, including two American astronauts, inhabit the ISS, and they continue to focus on research. In a statement released yesterday, Holdren highlighted the research success and collaborative international nature of the station:
“The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that has enabled groundbreaking research in the life and physical sciences and has provided a test bed for the technologies that will allow NASA to once again send astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit. The international partnership that built and maintains the station is a shining example, moreover, of what humanity can accomplish when we work together in peace.”
Astronaut Scott Kelly, currently halfway through his one-year mission aboard the ISS, has already set records for the number of days an American has remained in space. The goal of Kelly’s expedition is to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts over the long run to the microgravity environment of space, which is important for shedding light on how to safely conduct human exploration of space beyond Earth’s orbit. Said Kelly in a NASA video:
“We do a lot of experiments up here, but the most important experiment is the space station as an orbiting vehicle that keeps humans alive in space for long periods of time. … All of that is something we’re going to need to explore deeper in space for longer periods of time.”
Kelly’s astronaut colleague Kjell Lindgren added that the ISS is “a test bed for the technologies that we need to develop and understand in order to have a successful trip to Mars.” Calling the ISS an “international laboratory,” Lindgren pointed out that during Kelly’s year on the space station he will see over 400 scientific experiments, many looking at how human physiology adapts to space and anticipating what humans may need to protect their health on long trips to Mars or beyond.
Space station seen as a great feat of human engineering and ingenuity
The majority leadership of the House Committee Science, Space, and Technology acknowledged the ISS milestone on social media yesterday. Earlier this year, committee Chairman Lamar Smith called the space station an “amazing engineering achievement … in orbit 260 miles above the Earth and traveling at 17,000 miles per hour.” And in a press release from the minority leadership of the committee, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) noted yesterday that the ISS now spans the entire length of a football field. Johnson highlighted her unwavering support for the space station:
“I have been steadfast in my support of the ISS for its role in furthering research, human spaceflight, and inspiring the next generations, and also for the incredible engineering achievement that it represents and its visible demonstration of peaceful cooperation in space among multiple nations for more than a decade.”
First launched in 1998, the ISS is a joint project of five participating space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos (Russia), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. At an anticipated lifecycle cost of $150 billion, about half of which is the responsibility of the U.S., it is probably the most expensive item of human construction or engineering in history. It is the largest man-made body in Earth’s orbit and can been see with the naked eye from Earth.
Bolden celebrated the ISS with flourish in his statement yesterday and noted the importance of the ISS to NASA’s plan to send humans to Mars:
“The International Space Station, which President Obama has extended through 2024, is a testament to the ingenuity and boundless imagination of the human spirit. The work being done on board is an essential part of NASA’s journey to Mars, which will bring American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”